Skills we must teach students in the digital age

We live in a digital age, where technology is intrinsic to our daily lives. The rise of educational technology alongside the everyday means that students today learn in a far different manner to the ways that their parents and teachers were taught.


Where once children learnt via encyclopedias and atlases, it is now the norm for them to turn to online sources for their information. The internet, in fact, has become the go-to source of almost all educational information.


In addition to this, students use the internet to socialise, connect with peers, share their opinions, express themselves, and communicate. Unfortunately, the flexibility of the internet combined with its mass appeal also means that from time to time it is used in a disruptive way. Hacking, trolling, cyberstalking and cyberbullying are just some of the negative outcomes of internet abuse. While many schools have been successful in integrating internet technology within the curriculum, few focus on training students on how to use it effectively.


It is therefore imperative that students are taught digital etiquette along with digital literacy – not just to protect them from harmful activities, but also to prevent them from abusing the technology themselves.


Digital literacy (also called as digital citizenship) etiquette involves teaching students to use technology – especially the internet – correctly, effectively and safely. Here are the top five digital skills every student should be taught to make sure they are using the internet safely and responsibly.


Digital learning: While most children are good at accessing the internet, few know how to search for reliable information effectively. As a result, more often than not, students end up referring to sites such as Wikipedia or online forums, where content isn’t necessarily fact-checked. Students need to be taught how to check documents for reliability when looking for information such as verifiable citations. This includes being aware of reliable information sources such as EBSCOJSTOR and TED talks, among others.


Another common problem of online learning is that students tend to copy and paste blindly from different websites, often plagiarising others’ work without being aware of it. Teachers have a responsibility to teach students about copyrights and permissions so that children can use resources responsibly – as well as this, they would be smart to learn how to protect their own work, which they might post online.


Responsibility: Because the internet makes sharing information and opinions so incredibly easy, it can be quite difficult to draw boundaries. Students should be taught early about the importance of using the internet responsibly: opinions written online are often difficult to alter or even to delete, and it’s entirely possible for them to stay in cyberspace forever. This information is also easily accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world. It is therefore important to teach students how to conduct online discussions correctly, without indulging in bullying or provocative behaviour, otherwise known as trolling. By teaching students to find a balance between being respectful of others opinions and clearly expressing their own views online, we can avoid instances of trolling and bullying.


Privacy and safety: Teaching students about safety online is paramount to their welfare, as this extends far beyond avoiding posting personal information online. Students often feel safe on the internet, especially within the realms of social media accounts, where they post personal information. However, a wide variety of automatic privacy settings and geotagging used by social media platforms – means it is increasingly easy to pinpoint the location where a post or picture was uploaded. Recent examples in which children have harmed themselves while playing games such as Pokemon Go have only highlighted the need to teach people the importance of personal safety when using electronics.


Personal safety on the internet includes password protection, careful monitoring of privacy settings, and disabling cookies and geotagging functions.


Psychological welfare is just as important as physical safety. Students should therefore also be taught to protect themselves against internet trolls and online propaganda by learning to identify such individuals and the messages they post – and understanding above all not to engage with them.


Etiquette: How often have you walked into a waiting room or an airport and seen everyone around you busy on their phones? Or had a dramatic movie twist ruined by someone’s phone ringing in the audience? Aside from being annoying, bad digital etiquette can also lead to serious harm to yourself or others: using electronic devices that are not switched to airplane mode on a flight can interfere with the plane’s operational controls, and electromagnetic radiation caused by phones or tablets can impair electronic medical equipment, leading to potentially serious consequences for patients. Digital etiquette shows students when it is inappropriate to use gadgets, such as during teaching time – or crossing a road.


Networking: Digital media has changed how contacts are made. Increasingly, social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter, among others, are being used to build professional networks. We need to teach students how to use these platforms properly, building professional networks online to help with future professional successes. We should also recognise that as businesses move further into the future, their dependence on technology increases – whether for teleconferencing, networking, or developing and promoting their products. It is our responsibility to ensure students are adept at using various technological platforms to help them prepare for future job markets.

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